Bellingham Public Library Uses Story to Bring Whatcom Community Together

In the Field profiles various organizations Humanities Washington partners with across the state to help us advance our mission of sparking conversation and critical thinking using story as a catalyst. This week, we feature the Bellingham Public Library, the organization behind Whatcom READS! 2012.

In the Field profiles various organizations Humanities Washington partners with across the state to help us advance our mission of sparking conversation and critical thinking using story as a catalyst.

Partner Spotlight

Who: Bellingham Public Library
Founded: 1891
Mission: “Bellingham Public Library promotes the joy of reading, encourages the discovery of ideas, and brings the power of information to all members of the Bellingham community.”
Serves: 47,025 borrowers and receives more than 850,000 visits each year; in 2010, the library offered 457 programs servicing 17,608 attendees.
On the Web: bellinghampubliclibrary.org
Bellingham Public Library

BELLINGHAM — Circulating more than 1.6 million items annually, the Bellingham Public Library is no stranger to getting people reading. In recent years, though, they’ve taken things further, hoping to get Whatcom County’s residents on the same page.

Since 2009, the library has conducted Whatcom READS!, an annual program that “challenges Whatcom County residents to read and discuss the same book, providing a unique catalyst for developing community through the power of literature.”

The 2012 version of the program — which received grant support from Humanities Washington — has around 1,500 people in Northwest Washington reading In the Presence of the Enemy, a mystery by Whidbey Island writer Elizabeth George. Participants were also invited to partake in the program’s many public events, ranging from book discussions to writing workshops. The program culminates with a multi-day visit from the author next week. For details about George’s Feb. 21-23 events, visit the Whatcom READS! website or the Humanities Washington calendar, or check out the official program brochure [67 KB PDF].

Christine Perkins, the library’s assistant director and program manager for Whatcom READS!, has been impressed with how shared-story experiences spark conversation. “Over the past few years, Whatcom READS! has generated discussions in our community about racism, affirmative action, segregation, honesty, intellectual curiosity, legalization of marijuana, immigration reform … the list goes on. This year’s title, In the Presence of the Enemy, is a murder mystery — but we’ve been having meaty discussions about public and media scrutiny of political figures, the polarization of political parties, family life of politicians, sensationalistic journalism, to name a few topics.”

Pamela Kiesner, director of the Bellingham Public Library, sees shared stories as a great tool for building community.

“When you read and discuss the same story, you can discover things about one another, and make new connections based on what you learn,” Kiesner said. “Whatcom READS! creates the venue to bring people together and connect with each other.”

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